The benefits of using VR in the classroom

One of the many motivations behind using VR in an educational setting include the simulations it provides. VR provides the possibility for participating in lifelike simulations/virtual explorations that would otherwise be infeasible or too dangerous to undertake in reality (Kavanagh, et. al., 2017). For instance, if students are learning about ancient Egypt, a simulation that takes them through an Egyptian temple or pyramid would provide students with experiences that would be otherwise impossible. The HDM would provide the visual experience, and with the use of a joystick, students can freely explore the environment, asking questions and discovering new information as they go. Similarly, there are many situations in schools, like fire-drills, earthquake drills, etc., where practicing with the real thing is either dangerous or impossible. It would be impossible to create a real-life earthquake on demand, and it would be dangerous and life-threatening to use real fire to practice for a fire drill. Virtual reality systems would allow schools to virtually simulate these events so that staff and students may practice the valuable skills that would be necessary in a real-life catastrophe. Students would be able to practice where to go for safety, how to detect if smoke is on the other side of a door, etc., all while in a safe environment.

Enjoy exploring this virtual tour of the pyramids of Egypt

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VR is also a great tool for training purposes. Some common training simulations, in addition to the previously mentioned simulations involving fire and earthquake drills in schools, include flight simulations for pilots, medical simulations for using surgical tools, and other medical activities like rehabilitation. For example, in the Themes in Science and Technology Education Journal, a Dr. Nolon is credited for creating a virtual classroom to facilitate the rehabilitation of children with attention deficit disorders, while Dr. Chang is credited to have investigated the potential VR holds to motivate patients suffering from Cerebral Palsy (Kavanagh, 2017). Both virtual reality experiences provide medical professionals the chance to learn and practice without putting any patients at risk during the learning process. Similarly, a comparison study from the university of Gothenburg discusses a study in which chemical engineering VR was used to develop virtual chemical plants to learn about the technology and how effective it is. The main goal of the project was to create virtual lab accidents to show users the consequences of not following the safety procedure (Hussein, et al., 2015). Again, virtual reality is providing students safe environments to practice skills without endangering any students or patients. It also provides opportunities for them to apply their theoretical knowledge to a real industrial problem without exposing anyone to danger.

Watch This Example of a Medical Training Simulation

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One other motivator for using VR in education settings is that it provides educational experiences that align with many learning theories, like the theory of multiple intelligences and the constructivism learning theory. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences states that there are 8 main learning styles and that people learn best in one of those styles. The 8 styles include visual learning (learns well with pictures), linguistic learning (good with words), logical-mathematical (good with logic and numbers), body-kinesthetic (handles objects skillfully), musical (understands music), interpersonal (works well with people), intrapersonal (very self-aware), and naturalistic (understands nature). For instance, visual learners do best when they watch something being modeled or have picture instructions before they attempt the skill on their own. “Instruction designed to help students learn material in multiple ways can trigger their confidence to develop areas in which they are not as strong” (niu.edu, 2020). VR meets the needs of all 8 different intelligences. For students who are visual learners, VR provides a completely visual experience. For body-kinesthetic learners, students use their bodies in simulated environments by virtually opening doors, and using their bodies for other physical activities in the virtual environment. Musical learners can experience musical experiences virtually. Naturalistic learners can experience nature simulations in environments all around the world that they otherwise wouldn’t have had access to, like standing next to a life-size Redwood tree. Interpersonal and intrapersonal learners can also experience simulations where they interact with either simulated people, or avatars of real-life users.
Constructivism learning theory states that the learner constructs new knowledge as part of a group or independently, based on prior knowledge and experiences, by participating in a situation rather than passively absorbing information (Marougkas, 2023). In other words, being exposed to a situation will promote learning retention rather than reading about it in a book and hearing about it in a lecture. According to the journal, Amazonia Investiga, “The most important concept in virtual reality is that it gives the feeling that it is real. From this perspective, virtual reality is a three-dimensional simulation model that gives participants the feeling of being real and allows them to communicate with a dynamic environment created by computers (Serin, 2020). Virtual reality provides these experiences which not only aids in learning retention that is much stronger than traditional learning models, but it also provides more exciting and engaging experiences for students which motivates them to participate and want to learn, a challenge that is seen in many of the traditional models of learning.
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